The China Mystery Illness and the Power of Stories

4d9c7547g94283a8859d8&690From Undark Magazine: To Believe is to Feel: When a Mysterious Epidemic Isn’t So Mysterious

When U.S. diplomats in the Chinese city of Guangzhou recently started reporting strange, inexplicable symptoms of unknown origin — and which seemed to be spreading among State Department employees — I was reminded of a similar “mystery illness” that I spent some time researching a few hours south of Guangzhou, in a village called Fuhu.

One afternoon in May of 2004, a third-grade boy at a local school in Fuhu reported feeling that his genitals were shrinking. He panicked, ran home, and his parents fetched the local healer — an 80-year-old woman who had seen this sort of thing before: In 1963, she said, around the time of the Great Leap Forward, an “evil wind” had blown through the village and many people were struck by this illness known as “suo-yang.” She treated the boy by traditional means and he recovered quickly.

Two days later when the school principal learned of the incident, he gathered all 680 students in the school courtyard and, according to a report by Dr. Li Jie of the Guangzhou Psychiatric Hospital, “explained to the students in detail what had happened, and warned them to be cautious, and to take emergency measures if they experienced similar symptoms.”

Read the rest here.

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Winona’s Last War

img_2018-04_WinonLaDuke_Opener_TJTurner_GFor this story, I got to spend some time with Winona LaDuke, who took me around White Earth Reservation to see some of her many projects: coffee roaster, business incubator, solar thermal panel manufacturer, radio station, local food vendor, etc, etc. It was a whirlwind tour that barely even covered her biggest project, which is running Honor the Earth and its battle against the Line 3 Pipeline, which Enbridge wants to build across the state. Depending on what the Public Utility Commission rules this spring, here’s preview of what may be the next Standing Rock:

Winona LaDuke is in a hurry. The activist, writer, and former vice-presidential candidate stands in a grocery store’s produce aisle in Detroit Lakes, her hands briefly resting on her shopping cart as she silently runs through the list of things she needs. Even that is time lost. A busy spring of organizing lies ahead.

LaDuke’s environmental justice organization, Honor the Earth, is locked in an intense battle with Enbridge, a Canadian energy company, over a proposed oil pipeline project slated to run through northern Minnesota, part of what The New York Times calls a “historic moment” in Native American political activism across the country. As Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin said this January, “Over the past year and a half, something has happened…As a band, we are awake.”

Read the rest here.

img_2018-04_WinonLaDuke_TJTurner_G

Geography of Madness: Spanish Edition

GOMespThe Geography of Madness is now available in Spanish:

Geografía de la locura: En busca del pene perdido y otros delirios colectivos (Ensayo General)

Una desternillante exploración de las extravagancias y los desvaríos colectivos: ¿Por qué ciertos individuos creen que unos vándalos roban sus penes o que tienen lagartos bajo la piel? ¿Cuál es el origen del vudú? ¿Existe el latah, ese curioso estado que provoca bailes frenéticos y movimientos espasmódicos? Frank Bures ha viajado por todo el mundo para rastrear los síndromes más estrambóticos ligados a la cultura y contar luego deliciosas historias sobre esas extrañezas. Se confirma una vez más que el hombre es un animal muy raro.

Read the rest here.

Where to Eat Somali Food in Minneapolis

Qoraxlow_11RBG-e1517608934558New story at Roads & Kingdoms, featuring beautiful photos from Priscilla Briggs.

A few months before I moved to Minneapolis, I stopped at a gas station while visiting the city looking for a place to eat. The cashier and two customers—all of whom were Somali—conferred for a minute, then pointed me up the street to a building that didn’t look much like a restaurant. The windows were dark and the façade was strange, but high on the roof was a sign that read: Qoraxlow Restaurant #1 African and American Cuisine.

I walked inside. The place was run down: a giant TV played CNN, there were no menus, and the credit-card machine was broken. But once the door closed, the sound of talking and laughing, and the smell of rice and goat meat, brought me straight back to East Africa. I’ve never tired of eating at Qoraxlow since.

That was nearly a decade ago. Somalis had started landing in Minneapolis in force a few years earlier. After the Somali civil war started in 1991, people came to Minnesota to work in meat-packing jobs in the western part of the state. By 2010, according to Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, author of Somalis in Minnesota, their numbers had grown to somewhere between 36,000 (the U.S. census number) and 70,000 (the community’s estimate). Before long, you could find places like Qoraxlow across Minneapolis. For someone like myself, with young kids and little extra money for the kind of globetrotting I did when I was younger, these places felt like an escape. Sometimes I would meet old Somali men who spoke Italian and young ones who spoke Swahili. I could eat sambusas and drink chai and feel refreshingly far from home.

Read the rest here.

The Sound of Silence

c87f36d1-9a1e-4052-a68c-aa3806ad8a6c-1New story at Slate on Cuba’s Sonic Attacks:

A few weeks after the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, several people working for the U.S. Embassy in Cuba fell mysteriously ill. Some lost their hearing. Some had headaches and a pain in one ear. Others reported feeling dizzy or nauseous, having trouble focusing, or feeling fatigued. Later, some would have a hard time concentrating, remembering things, sleeping, and even walking.

These symptoms were “medically confirmed,” as the State Department’s medical director Charles Rosenfarb put it, and brain scans were said to show abnormalities in the victims’ white matter, which transfers information between brain regions. The illnesses were believed by the government to be “health attacks,” carried out by a foreign power, though as Todd Brown, assistant director at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “investigative attempts and expert analysis failed to identify the cause or perpetrator.”

Nonetheless, investigators concluded the illnesses, which ultimately affected 24 people, were likely the result of a “sonic device.” This conclusion seems to be primarily due to the fact that some diplomats reported hearing a high-pitched noise in their homes and hotel rooms.

Despite a lack evidence for such a weapon, or any known way it could affect white matter, the sonic weapon theory proved irresistible for both media outlets and for Cuba hawks like Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, both of whom immediately transformed the sonic weapon into a handy political weapon.

Read the rest here.

Worst Year Ever? Never.

ColumnArt_Nov17_CutlerNew column from The Rotarian:

The idea that 2016 was the worst year ever started circulating after several celebrity deaths (Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen) were followed by an election that did not go the way many people wanted it to. After that, the worst-year-ever meme became unstoppable, and in 2017, the drumbeat of decline has not stopped. Offhand, I can think of a lot of things that are worse than a cold winter day: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 1929 stock market crash, the Bataan Death March. But it’s true that things do feel worse than they actually are. Part of the reason lies in the 24-hour news cycle and its never-ending flow of bad news. As writer Jia Tolentino put it in The New Yorker, “There is no limit to the amount of misfortune a person can take in via the Internet, and there’s no easy way to properly calibrate it. … Our ability to change things is not increasing at the same rate as our ability to know about them.”

Whatever the reason, the downbeat trend has accelerated among people of all political stripes, and it is noteworthy because it goes directly against the strongest current in American culture: our optimism, our sense that problems are meant to be solved and that solving them is our job. Since our country’s founding, America has been a can-do place, a place of possibility. Our creed has always been a certain sometimes naive faith that things will work out for the best. And for the most part – believe it or not – they have.

Contrary to what you might think, violence is at all-time lows, as is the rate of global poverty. War deaths are fewer than ever in betterangels-250x381history. On most indicators where you might think progress is not being made, the opposite is probably true. Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in a column in The New York Times: “2017 is likely to be the best year in the history of humanity.” He continued: “Every day, another 250,000 people graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures. About 300,000 get electricity for the first time. Some 285,000 get their first access to clean drinking water. When I was a boy, a majority of adults had always been illiterate, but now more than 85 percent can read.”

Read the rest here.